To start off TALENT WATCH, the new section on :we are micro that will continue to bring to you interviews with interesting micro businesses and talented people who run them and create great work (you can read more about that here), I want to introduce to you the lovely Scarlett Fu. Scarlett is a young graphic designer, currently based in London, UK.
Since the idea of Talent Watch is to inspire you with stories from other people who have started successful micro businesses and to be able to learn from their experiences, but also to support the existing community of micros, let’s dive into the first interview and find out more about Scarlett, how she became an entrepreneur, her work routines and expectations and the lessons she can share with us.
To start off, tell us a little bit about what you do and what your philosophy is.
I’m a freelance graphic designer with the greatest interest in branding, logo design, advertising and print from Hong Kong, and currently based in London, UK.
I don’t say specialist because I don’t consider myself to be a specialist; design is always evolving, so I find it hard to say that I am an expert in anything, but rather someone with ‘more knowledge and interest’ in those topics; we can only learn and understand the fundamental points of each which will develop our own streak of creativity from there.
How did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
It was a natural progression towards creative subjects from a young age and the profession fell into place.
Did you find the whole process of starting a business challenging and why?
I was leaving school as this whole thing unfolded, so the learning curve between leaving school, entering the real world, learning business etiquette and understanding the responsibilities whilst beginning University was quite daunting.
What did you do previously to becoming an entrepreneur?
As I was still at school, so I was learning the ropes! School provided Fine Art as a subject, which got me to understand the importance of appreciating form and colour at its most basic level, as well as the more traditional creative techniques of pencil on paper and paints. I taught myself about design and the workings of digital software in my spare time.
Can you briefly describe your typical workday?
I get up depending on how late I go to bed the previous night. Even if I work till the early hours (which, by the way, is very calming and I find that it helps creatively), I don’t tend to sleep later than 10. I check things in order: inbox, twitter then blogs for the daily design inspiration, keep the ones I find interesting and share on my microblog.
I work on projects until around 6pm, and go to client meetings, run errands in between if required. Take a tea break, exercise occasionally (or just even have a quick walk around to loosen up a little) then a bit of dinner. Depending on the workload, I work again until midnight or 1 or work on my personal designs, then relax with some light reading and go to bed around 2.
What’s the best and the hardest part about running your own business?
Looking for clients is one of my biggest challenges when in a freelance business, as it can take the most time; I didn’t know where to start apart from relying on word of mouth, but nowadays social media and blogs can help with the promotion. You do need to constantly promote yourself as a freelancer, build relationships with clients, continue to enhance your portfolio of work and plan your next move in order for you you to stay ahead.
How long did it take for your business to take off?
Business picked up during my second year in London, but it comes and goes, as University work took priority in my final year, for example.
Most people tell me about the relationships they made with their customers/clients and that they enjoy the communication. Being small also means being able to get more personal and represent your brand, share your philosophy, establish friendships. What are your thoughts and experiences?
It’s great being a freelancer because it means that you can interact with your client face to face and understand what your client really requires for their business right down to the basics of how they want to show their business’s values to their customers.
I find representing yourself as a brand to be exactly the same; it’s about how you present yourself and your skills to your potential clients. Once you find your bearings, presenting yourself as a strong, confident designer with a load of work that speaks for itself to your clients can set the keystone to any good designer-client relationship.
What effective way of marketing have you used to promote your work (this can include your friends and maybe ex work collegues word of mouth and help)?
The internet has helped a lot because everything you showcase online becomes available very quickly for anyone to view at a click of a button, and helps with promotion immensely. My friends and family have been extremely supportive and rather useful in spreading the word over the years about my work and I can’t thank them enough for it.
Do you work with clients online (from home) or do you meet them?
Since I have clients based both locally and overseas, the time spent online and in person is split equally. Personally, I prefer meeting clients face to face as it sometimes helps break the tension of formal business meetings; I can gain a further understanding as to what clients require when they relax a little bit and can begin to trust you as a designer.
Are you focusing mostly on local clients or do you have foreign clients approach you for work, too?
The majority that approached me for work had been foreign clients, but my most recent client (and one of my largest projects to date) was local so I’m hoping for more of the same to come in the near future with gradual networking opportunities.
What did you focus on most when you started?
My initial focus was print design for social events, progressing to business cards and logo design. But I am most passionate about advertising and branding and hope to hone my skills for that.
How much has internet and social media helped your business?
Frankly, I can’t thank Tim Berners-Lee enough for creating the World Wide Web. Without it, there would not be a larger communications platform as the global marketplace, where everyone can interact with each other with a click of a few buttons even if they were a thousand miles away. Needless to say, it has helped immensely for freelancers as people from different parts of the world are open to more choices a lot quicker than any brochure; using the internet to showcase my abilities hopefully spoke to them to hire me as their designer.
The rise of social media has also helped tremendously; it landed me with a few extremely useful contacts and work opportunities, opening even more doors. These contacts have become firm friends and I hope to extend my network from this.
What are your 2-3 goals for the future?
I haven’t had much of an opportunity to develop my team working skills, which is an experience one needs to develop to gain experience as a designer, so I’d like to work with a team to understand the inner workings from idea to completion. Another goal is to understand branding at a deeper level, as I’ve become extremely intrigued by the psychology and background a brand requires to become successful in a person’s mind recently. So the best aim to work towards would be for a chance to work within a team in a branding agency that share the same passion in the near future.
How do you detach from your business and recharge?
The first thing to detach from work is to learn to turn digital devices off, or at least the internet if you need your phone for a chat with your friends, as it already helps a lot by not being tempted to refresh your inbox to see if clients have replied every few minutes!
I’d go outside, take a deep breath and have a walk or jog around. Exercise is important to get the lovely oxygen into your brain for inspiration and keeps your mind fresh (I do love the odd badminton match by the way). One of my other hobbies is film photography, so I go out and try to turn mundane objects into special items by exploring them from different perspectives, which can give me ideas for designs too.
Has working in this way changed your life or taken in a certain direction (regarding lifestyle or being able to achieve some personal goals)?
As many designers will tell you, there are its ups and downs to being a freelancer; getting used to the ridiculously flexible (and sometimes harsh) schedule is one of the things freelancers get used to, which has helped me understand myself at a more personal level and to understand how far I can push myself to go that extra mile, and finding ways to becoming more efficient in producing work.
Any words of wisdom for the people who want to open a micro business?
As John Lasseter once said to a group of students never to let anyone kill your dreams, no-one can stop you from accomplishing what you want to achieve if you are passionate about what you do. Nothing can be achieved without a little bit of elbow grease in the first place. Work hard, play hard, and it’ll pay off.
Scarlett Fu is a great graphic designer and we wish her a lot of success with her business and in her future endeavours. Thanks again for doing this interview. You can find out more about Scarlett’s work on her website where you can download her portfolio and get in touch with her, but you can also follow her on twitter @daftks and find her on LinkedIn and Behance.